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Democratic grassroots group announces 2022 targets
The Democratic grassroots group Swing Left announced Wednesday morning that is targeting dozens of competitive federal and state races in the midterms.
The group is targeting 48 House races, six Senate races, six governor’s races and seven state legislatures. Swing Left first launched in 2017 to leverage the grassroots volunteers and donors to support eventual Democratic nominees.
Swing Left is targeting top Democratic races, but the group also takes a unique approach to the contests, seeking to build a volunteer and donor base ahead of the primaries. Since 2017, the group says it has helped raise more than $40 million for Democratic candidates and organizations, and its members have made more than 40 million voter contacts. Swing Left is also launching a revamped version of a tool from the 2018 midterms that can help connect Democrats to nearby swing districts.
"Despite what Republicans may want us to believe, Democrats can win the midterms," Neisha Blandin, Swing Left's head of political strategy, said in a statement to NBC News. "It's going to be tough, but there is a path to victory, through smart political targeting. Every hour spent volunteering and every dollar donated needs to go where it will have the biggest impact."
In the battle for the Senate, the group is prioritizing defending Democratic Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona, Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada. The group notably did not include Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., but the GOP field to take on Hassan is still in flux.
The group is also focused on flipping GOP-held Senate seats in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Republicans need a net gain of just one seat to take control of the chamber.
Swing Left will also focus voter contact and fundraising efforts on governor’s races in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida and Georgia, as well as dozens of competitive House and state legislative races.
Sen. Bennet: GOP criticisms of Biden on Ukraine are 'just words'
Redistricting reshuffles Trump-backed preference to challenge GOP Rep. Upton
Michigan Republican state Rep. Steve Carra, who former President Donald Trump previously endorsed in his primary bid against incumbent GOP Rep. Fred Upton, is ending his congressional bid to give another Republican a clear path against Upton.
While Trump endorsed Carra months ago, redistricting moved Upton into a member-on-member primary against GOP Rep. Bill Huizenga, who Trump endorsed Friday. On Tuesday, Carra announced he would clear the anti-Upton lane for Huizenga and instead run for re-election to the state House.
In a statement, Carra criticized Upton, who voted to impeach Trump, as well as backing two measures the former president opposed since he left office — the bipartisan infrastructure deal and for an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol.
"The ramifications for betraying our country will send impeachment RINO Fred Upton packing and I could not be more happy for Southwest Michigan," Carra said.
"Now that Bill Huizenga has President Trump’s and my support in the newly formed 4th Congressional district, he has a clear path to victory."
While Upton hasn't officially announced his re-election, he began running TV ads in the new district last month.
"I know folks are tired of the gridlock back in D.C. Me too," Upton says in his ad.
"I'm not afraid to take on anyone when they are wrong and work with anyone when they are right. We need a dialogue with those who differ to find better ways. If you want a rubber stamp as your congressman, I'm the wrong guy."
Former Democratic congresswoman running for Oklahoma Senate
Former Oklahoma Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn, who served one term in the House before losing her 2020 re-election bid, is running for Senate to replace the retiring Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe.
Horn filed her candidacy Tuesday morning with the Federal Election Commission and shortly after, released a launch video on YouTube.
“Things are more divided than ever and our leaders are more extreme than we are. We can’t keep going down this same path, electing people who pit us against our friends and neighbors. That’s not the Oklahoma way,” she says in the video.
“I got knocked down, but I got back up, because I’m not done fighting for Oklahoma. And that’s why I’m running for U.S. Senate. This won’t be easy, but things worth fighting for never are.”
There will be two Senate elections in Oklahoma this fall — the regularly scheduled election for the seat currently held by GOP Sen. James Lankford, and an open seat, special election race prompted by the retirement of GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe. An addendum attached to her candidate filing with the FEC confirms she is running for the open seat.
Horn won her seat in Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District in the 2018 midterms, when she defeated incumbent GOP Rep. Steve Russell by 1.4 percentage points. But she lost in 2020 to current GOP Rep. Stephanie Bice by 4.2 percentage points.
Stacey Abrams launches first TV ad of Georgia governor's race
Democrat Stacey Abrams launched her first TV ad of the Georgia governor’s race Tuesday, highlighting her work since her unsuccessful run for governor in 2018.
“When I didn't win the governor's race, not getting the job didn't exempt me from the work, and so I didn't quit,” Abrams said in the 30-second spot.
“I got back to work, paid off the medical debt of 68,000 Georgians, helping small businesses stay alive, making sure they had the financing they needed and putting money into the pockets of families,” Abrams said, referring to her political organization’s efforts.
Abrams, the first Black woman to be a major party’s gubernatorial nominee, is the presumptive Democratic nominee this year, drawing no primary challengers after last week’s filing deadline. The race for the GOP nomination is already playing out on the airwaves, with Gov. Brain Kemp facing former Sen. David Perdue, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
Abrams’ campaign has spent roughly $440,000 on the airwaves for her first ad, according to the ad tracking firm AdImpact. The Georgia governor’s race is expected to be one of the most competitive — and expensive — in the country.
If Kemp wins the primary, the race would set up a rematch from 2018, when Kemp defeated Abrams by just 1 percentage point. President Joe Biden won the state by less than half a percentage point in 2020.
Carnahan, widow of the late Rep. Hagedorn, will run to fill his seat
Former Minnesota GOP chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan — the widow of the late Republican Rep. Jim Hagedorn — will run in the special election aimed at filling his seat through the end of the year.
Carnahan made the announcement on Twitter and in a spate of media interviews Monday morning.
"In the final weeks before his passing, Jim told me to keep forging ahead, to keep reaching my dreams, and to win this seat," Carnahan said in a statement to Fox News. "Jim was my best friend and the love of my life, and it is his blessing that strengthens me for the challenges ahead. I am committed to continuing my husband’s legacy of fighting to secure the border, defending conservative values, safeguarding the integrity of our elections, and serving the people of Minnesota’s First Congressional District."
Hagedorn, who had been suffering from kidney cancer and had been diagnosed with Covid-19 weeks before his death, passed away last month. By state law, there will be a special primary election to replace him on May 24 before a special general election on Aug. 9.
Carnahan ran the state Republican Party after the 2016 election and was re-elected after the 2020 election. She resigned in 2021 after controversy sparked by a top GOP donor in the state being charged with sex trafficking (Carnahan denied knowing about the alleged crimes and also denied subsequent accusations she presided over a toxic workplace as chair).
The special primary race will be a crowded one in a district that leans Republican. On top of the special election to fill out the rest of Hagedorn's vacated term, there will also be a regularly scheduled election to decide who fills the seat starting next year — it's unclear whether Carnahan plans to run for that too.
Carnahan will be the third widow or widower to run this cycle after the death of their spouse. Louisiana Republican Rep. Julia Letlow won a seat in Congress last year, running after the death of her husband, the late-Congressman-elect who died in December of 2020, before he could be seated. And Texas Republican Susan Wright ran an unsuccessful bid in a 2021 special election after her husband, the late Rep. Ron Wright, died.
Wisconsin's State Treasurer hits Sen. Ron Johnson in first Senate campaign ad
Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski is out with her first television ad today in the race for the Democratic nomination for Senate.
The commercial hits incumbent Republican Senator Ron Johnson on the economy and on Covid — including raising his suggestion that gargling mouthwash could be an effective way to stifle Covid-19.
Godlewski opens the ad by highlighting some problems facing voters today. “Dairy farms disappearing, prices up, COVID still not gone,” she says before she goes after Johnson’s statement.
“What’s Ron Johnson done? Voted against new jobs and told us to take mouthwash to cure COVID,” Godlewski says. (Johnson has noted a study found mouthwash could "reduce viral replication" in the mouth. But experts contacted by The Washington Post after his comments poured cold water on the idea it would do much.)
In the ad, Godlewski also highlights her role as state treasurer and positions herself as a “common sense” candidate against Johnson and his conspiracy theories.
“Common sense is what quite frankly we could use in Washington,” Godlewski says. “Practical ideas that just help people. Not mouthwash.”
It’s significant that Godlewski is running ads against Johnson rather than targeting anyone she’s facing in the Democratic primary. Her opponents include Milwaukee Bucks owner Alex Lasry and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.
The non-partisan Cook Political Report has this year’s Senate race in Wisconsin rated as a toss-up, meaning Republicans and Democrats are equally positioned to take the seat.
DeSantis is popular — but Trump is still top choice for president among Miami-Dade voters, new poll suggests
Gov. Ron DeSantis is in a strong position to win Florida again, but he could get crushed in a presidential primary if he faces Donald Trump, according to a poll of voters in Miami-Dade, the largest and most diverse county in the state, released Monday.
In a hypothetical primary matchup between Trump and DeSantis, the former president leads his former protégé 55-32 percent among Republicans in the county, the new poll from Bendixen & Amandi International suggests.
Among Hispanic voters in the county, Trump’s support was even stronger: those of Cuban descent backed him over DeSantis by 62-32 percent and non-Cuban Latinos supported the former president by 63-22 percent over the governor, according to the poll.
Both men, however, had the same approval rating among Republicans, 78 percent. But 20 percent of Republicans had an unfavorable view of Trump while 16 percent viewed DeSantis negatively.
“While its clear Ron DeSantis is a very popular figure with Republicans, he’s still an altar boy in service to the MAGA messiah,” said pollster Fernand Amandi, a Miami-based Democrat who conducted the survey of 800 voters in the county to check its political pulse.
DeSantis has repeatedly downplayed any intention of running for president, but he has become a national figure in the GOP and one Florida poll showed him nominally edging out Trump in the state. However, most surveys suggest Trump would beat the governor if he decided to run for president and if the 2024 election were held today.
Trump won the state of Florida in 2020 and 2016. In the 2016 GOP primary, he beat home state Sen. Marco Rubio in every county except one: Miami-Dade.
“Miami-Dade is the Rosetta stone for understanding how Florida is trending,” Amandi said, “and because Florida is a window into the United States, it’s a way to understand how national trends are breaking.”
Overall, Amandi said he didn’t like what he saw for his party.
Miami-Dade is a county where Democrats need to win by double digits, along with other urban centers in the state, in order to offset losses to Republicans in more suburban and rural areas. With a giant Hispanic population — about half of the county’s resident were born out of the country; many in Latin America — the county is also a proving ground for Latino outreach.
In 2020, the bottom fell out for Democrats in Miami-Dade, which Trump lost by only 7 percentage points, a major factor in helping him win Florida overall by more than 3 points. Compare that to his 2016 performance in Miami-Dade, which he lost by nearly 30 points on his way to carrying the state by about a point.
Trump is on pace to have a repeat performance against President Joe Biden if there’s a rematch in 2024, according to Amandi’s poll, which shows Trump only losing the county by 7 points to the president. DeSantis does about the same against Biden, losing Miami-Dade by 6 points, the poll shows.
Amandi didn’t poll head-to-head matchups between DeSantis and his Democratic rivals, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Rep. Charlie Crist, but he noted a troubling sign for both of them: by a 7-point margin, voters in the Democratic county said DeSantis should be reelected again.
“These numbers in this heavily Democratic county in Florida should serve as the ultimate wakeup call for Democrats who hope to deny DeSantis reelection in November,” he said.
One effort to expand diversity in Democratic staffing ranks gets new boost
One new group, Progressive Pipeline, is working to address that by recruiting college students or recent graduates who might not otherwise go into politics, and placing them in paid fellowships at progressive organizations in the hopes of adding diversity to the Democratic talent pool.
“We've found that if you get somebody in the door,” said Michael Michaelson, the executive director of Progressive Pipeline, “You can turn this one internship into a career and help give someone the opportunity to be movement leaders in the future.”
The non-profit, launched in 2020, has recruited, trained and placed 220 fellows so far — 76 percent of whom are people of color and 73 percent of whom are women or non-binary — and is now expanding beyond short-term fellowships to also offer entry-level jobs and it's creating a new advisory council.
Advocates have long argued that politics tends to attract people from privileged backgrounds because, among other things, early career paths often include unpaid internships and unpredictable periods of unemployment, such as after a losing campaign, that can be difficult to weather for young people without family support.
And because hiring in politics is often through word-of-mouth and personal networks, managers often end up hiring people who look like them, even if they have the best of intentions.
“A lot of work is trying to push back against the structures of what progressive politics have looked like for a long time. So we say that rather than waiting for people to come to us, we're going to go out and find them,” Michaelson said.
Taking a page large employers that spend millions of dollars to aggressively recruit on college campuses, Progressive Pipeline recruits from dozens of campuses, screens applicants, trains them, places them at a partner organization that has agreed to host a fellow, and connects them with a coach they meet with weekly to help them navigate what might be their first job.
"Progressive Pipeline is opening doors for so many people that would be shut out of the political process otherwise,” said Maurice Mitchell, National Director of the Working Families Party, one of the groups that has committed to hosting a fellow this year.
Ohio Gov. DeWine declines debate invite days after poll shows him up big
Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine will skip the Ohio Debate Commission's primary debate later this month, the organization confirmed in a Thursday statement.
The press release from the Commission says DeWine's campaign did not provide a reason for declining the invitation to join its March 29 debate, which is part of the group's four scheduled debates this month in the state's gubernatorial and senate races.
"No other candidate has declined the Ohio Debate Commission’s invitation to participate. The Ohio Gubernatorial Republican primary debate will go on with the candidates who choose to participate and will be broadcast on TV and radio stations around the state to inform primary voters," the commission said in a statement.
On top of DeWine, the commission also invited former Rep. Jim Renacci, as well as farmer Joe Blystone and former state Rep. Ron Hood, to debate.
"Mike DeWine is the most publicly accessible Governor in Ohio history," Brenton Temple, DeWine's campaign manager, told NBC in a statement.
"Governor DeWine meets with constituents on a daily basis and regularly takes questions from the media. Ohioans know where he stands on the issues and that he is fighting and winning for them."
In a statement to NBC, Renacci criticized DeWine, saying "he's terrified to debate me" and "won't even take to the debate stage" to defend his record.
The announcement comes days after the recent Fox News poll found DeWine with 50 percent among Republican primary voters, ahead of Blystone's 21 percent and Renacci's 18 percent.
Senate Democratic primary hits Pennsylvania’s airwaves
Two top Democratic Senate candidates in Pennsylvania are up with the first TV ads in this key race, with Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pa., launching his first ad of the race Thursday morning, following Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, whose campaign began been running ads last week. State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta has not yet hit the airwaves.
The ads signal a new phase in the Democratic primary race and come as Republican Senate candidates have already spent millions attacking each other ahead of the May 17 primary.
Lamb’s first spot highlights his background as a Marine and federal prosecutor, as well as his three victories in competitive House districts.
Lamb's ad also features footage from the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol, highlighting Lamb’s speech after the attack where he chastised Republicans (and during which lawmakers almost came to blows). The use of House floor footage could run afoul of ethics rules that prohibit such footage from being used for political purposes.
Both Lamb and Fetterman hail from the western side of the state. Fetterman has been up on the air with ads highlighting his work as mayor of Braddock, a struggling steel town outside of Pittsburgh. He recently launched ads in the expensive Philadelphia media market.
Fetterman has a sizable financial advantage in the race, with $5.3 million in his campaign account as of Dec. 31. Lamb’s campaign had $3 million on hand while Kenyatta’s campaign had $285,000.
Democrats view Pennsylvania as a top pickup opportunity with GOP Sen. Pat Toomey retiring. Biden, who has roots in the state, carried Pennsylvania by 1 percentage point in 2020 after former President Donald Trump won the state by 1 point in 2016.
Survey: Majority of election officials are concerned about interference, fear for safety
A majority of local election officials say they are worried that political interference in elections could affect their ability to do their jobs and are considering leaving their roles amid safety concerns, according to a new survey released Thursday.
The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law surveyed nearly 600 local election officials nationwide and found that a large majority of them feel they need more federal government support to combat interference from political leaders and public threats.
One in 5 local officials said they were unlikely to continue serving through 2024, citing mainly attacks from politicians, stress and retirement plans as the reasons, according to the survey, which was conducted online for the Brennan Center by Benenson Strategy Group. The survey, which was conducted Jan. 31 through Feb. 14, interviewed 596 election officials nationwide with a reported margin of error of +/- 3.95 percent.
The center reported that 77 percent of elections officials feel threats have increased and that 54 percent were concerned for their colleagues’ safety. Nearly a third said they knew of at least one worker who left a job because of threats and harassment. And among those who said they had been threatened, more than half reported having received threats in person.
Lawrence Norden, the senior director of the Brennan Center’s Elections and Government Program, called local election officials “the heroes of the 2020 election.” But with many on the fence about staying, Norden and over half of the workers surveyed worry that new officials could buy into false voter fraud narratives
“There was a lot of political pressure on them to lie about the election results, and they refused to,” Norden said of 2020 officials. “If you have a different set of election officials that's not willing to stand up to the threats, then you're going to have a lot more doubt cast about the system, and you're going to make it easier for people to sabotage the elections.”
Nearly all respondents said they believe social media played a role in facilitating false election information, and two-thirds said the misinformation made their jobs more dangerous.
Norden said the influence of misinformation on the 2024 elections will depend on how much support elections officials get and whether social media platforms crack down on false information.
Support would involve passing state-level laws to protect officials and encouraging local law enforcement to investigate threats, Norden said. The Brennan Center has supported Democratic voting bills in the past.
Norden also said more federal dollars need to go toward elections so officials can hire staff members, pay for physical security and prosecute threats that “cross the line.”
He called vote reviews in states like Arizona and Wisconsin “disinformation operations,” saying they contribute to the environment election officials are seeking to leave.
“At the end of the day, apolitical election administration is necessary if you're going to have a democracy,” Lawrence said.
“If they leave in large numbers,” he continued, “we're going to lose their knowledge, and if they're replaced by people who don't have the same commitment to apolitical election administration, we've got a big problem.”
McCrory's new spot tries to hit Budd on Putin
Former North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is up with his first television ad in the state's competitive GOP primary attacking his top opponent, GOP Rep. Ted Budd, for comments he made about Russia.
The new spot quotes a quick comment from Budd from a recent interview in which he referred to Russian President Vladimir Putin as "a very intelligent actor" who had "strategic reasons why he would want to protect his southern and western flank."
"These are serious times and we need serious senators," McCrory says in the new ad.
"I don't compliment our enemies — I stand for truth and freedom."
The Budd comments cited in the ad come from two different interviews. The first was from late last month when he filed his candidacy, saying: "Putin is evil. But, that doesn’t mean he’s not smart. He’s a very intelligent actor, although I would say he’s been quite erratic in this approach to the Ukraine."
And the second is from a Fox News interview around the same time, where he said the West should have predicted that Russia would want to claw back after the fall of the Soviet Union, adding the comment about Putin's "strategic reasons" for protecting his flank.
"But still, this is evil, this is a sovereign nation in Ukraine and we stand with the Ukraine people."
Jonathan Felts, a senior advisor to Budd, told NBC News in a statement responding to the ad that "McCrory has a long track-record of underestimating the opposition which is why he’s already lost twice and is about to lose again."
"Ted Budd presents the sort of level-headed assessment you would expect from a U.S. Senator because he knows these are serious times that require strength, not the empty soundbites preferred by career politicians like Biden and McCrory. Ted Budd accurately described Putin as an evil, intelligent threat to be taken seriously," he added.
McCrory's ad is not the first aimed at attacking a Republican on Russia — especially after former President Donald Trump praised some of Putin's tactics. Independent Evan McMullin is also up with a new ad that attacks Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee on Russia, and the campaign told PolitiFact it was pointing to Lee's 2017 sanctions vote as it sought to frame Lee as not tough on Russia.
Initial post-State of the Union polls suggest some Democrats coming home
Did President Biden get a polling bounce after his State of the Union address?
So far, we’ve gotten mixed answers, but the different polling numbers at least suggest that some of the president's Democratic critics and detractors have come home after last week’s speech.
Here are the initial numbers:
- On Friday, a national NPR/PBS/Marist poll (conducted March 1-2, with a margin of error +/- 3.8 percent) found Biden’s approval rating increasing 8 points among all adults, from 39 percent the week before the speech to 47 percent after. By party, the poll showed 90 percent of Democrats approving Biden’s job (up from 79 percent the week before), compared with 39 percent for independents (was 29 percent) and 10 percent for Republicans (was 6 percent).
- Then on Monday, a national Quinnipiac survey (conducted March 4-6, with a margin of error of +/- 2.6 percent) showed very little bounce, putting Biden’s approval rating at 38 percent among all adults — up just 1 point from the week before. By party, the poll found 82 percent of Democrats approving (up from 75 percent in January), versus just 30 percent of independents and 6 percent of Republicans giving the president a thumbs-up.
- On Tuesday, an online Politico/Morning Consult poll (conducted March 4-6, with a margin of error of +/- 2 percent) had Biden’s approval rating at 45 percent — up from 41 percent the week before. And the poll showed a pretty similar breakdown by party, with 84 percent of Democrats approving of Biden’s job (was 77 percent the week before), versus 31 percent for independents (was 32 percent) and 11 percent by Republicans (was 10 percent).
Cortez Masto touts pandemic relief in first TV ads
Nevada Democrat Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s first TV ads tout her work on pandemic aid, underscoring a message Democrats hope to leverage in the midterms.
“If it weren't for Catherine Cortez Masto, we would all be worse off,” Kasey Christensen, a restaurant worker in Reno, says in one of the 30-second spots.
The other TV ad features Gladdis Blanco, a housekeeper in Las Vegas, who says, “I was very worried about making a living when no one was coming to Nevada in times like that,” adding that Cortez Masto “led the fight to protect Nevada and made sure we got the help we needed.”
Cortez Masto’s ads demonstrate how vulnerable Democrats plan to highlight their accomplishments on the campaign trail, including pandemic relief efforts like the American Rescue Plan, which passed Congress without any Republican support nearly one year ago.
The first-term senator is a top target for Republicans, who need a net gain of just one seat to win back the majority in the Senate. President Joe Biden won the state by 3 percentage points in 2020.
Guy Cecil, chairman of the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, said Democrats could have done more to tout the pandemic relief.
“I think most Americans wouldn't recognize the term ‘American Rescue Plan,’” Cecil told reporters during a Thursday briefing. But he said touting the legislation was a challenge while people were still suffering from the pandemic. Cecil does see an opportunity now to draw a contrast with Republicans who opposed the legislation.
“There's a lot of work that we can do in that space to still use components of the ARP, the infrastructure bill, other pieces of legislation to draw that contrast between us and them,” Cecil said. “And I think we'll be very focused on that over the next few months.”
Ben Kamisar contributed to this report.
Former Gov. Cuomo spending big on ads months after resignation amid misconduct allegations
Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned after a report from the state's attorney general found multiple allegations of sexual misconduct allegations against him, has been running hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of television ads seeking to discredit the allegations.
His campaign committee has been running spots for a little more than a week — at more than $660,000 so far — that recount news coverage of the allegations and the investigations, choosing parts of the coverage aimed at undercutting the cases against him.
"Political attacks won. And New Yorkers lost a proven leader," the ad closes.
Cuomo evoked a similar message Sunday in his first public appearance, a speech at a Brooklyn church, where he claimed his rivals "used cancel culture to effectively overturn an election."
Cuomo has $650,000 more in television time booked through Sunday, per ad-tracking firm AdImpact, more than any other gubernatorial candidate has booked over that span, even though he is not running for any office at this point.
The Albany County district attorney's office dismissed a misdemeanor charge of forcible touching filed against Cuomo this year, saying it could not "meet our burden at trial." District Attorney David Soares said that "we found the complainant in this case cooperative and credible."
Iowa Gov. Reynolds leads Democrat by 8 in new poll
Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds leads Democratic businesswoman Deidre DeJear by 8 points in a new poll out of the Hawkeye State, results the pollster called "surprising."
Reynolds secured 51 percent of likely voters in the new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, with DeJear at 43 percent. Five percent said they were not sure who they'd vote for and one percent chose a different candidate.
Forty-nine percent of all Iowans approve of Reynolds' job performance, compared to the 44 percent who disapprove. The incumbent's favorability rating is 50 percent among all Iowans, with 42 percent viewing her unfavorably.
By comparison, only 31 percent of Iowans say they know enough about DeJear to rate her favorably or unfavorably (16 percent favorably, 15 percent unfavorably).
“It just says that people are voting on party, really,” pollster J. Ann Selzer told the Des Moines Register of the results, which she called "surprising" considering DeJear's name identification in the state.
“The play will be in converting the independents and then getting them to turn out, because independents are notoriously unreliable voters."
Reynolds delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union address last week. DeJear was the party's nominee for secretary of state in 2018.
The Iowa Poll polled 813 Iowans at least 18 years of age on landline and cell phones from Feb. 28 through March 2. The margin of error for the full sample is +/- 3.4 percent, while the margin of error for the 612 likely voter sample is +/- 4 percent.
Biden remains top 'boogeyman' in 2022 ads
For the second straight month, President Joe Biden has topped the list as the “boogeyman” identified most in TV ads for the House, Senate and governor — all by Republican candidates — according to an NBC News analysis of midterm campaign ads.
Out of 145 TV ads reviewed for the month of February, 25 used Biden as a “boogeyman,” 14 attacked “socialism,” “the Radical left” or similar ideas, and 6 mentioned China.
Rather than directly attacking a candidate, “boogeymen” are used in ads as a way to either establish credentials with primary voters, or to paint their opponents in a negative light.
Last month, Democratic candidates didn't employ boogeymen in their ads, according to the advertisements captured by AdImpact, an ad-tracking firm. Instead, these Democrats — airing far fewer overall ads in February than Republicans — opted to highlight their own stories and platforms.
Biden was cited as a target 25 times in Republican ads, usually by a candidate attacking his agenda or alleging failures by his administration.
For example, in a February 1 ad, Republican candidate for Texas’ 15th district Monica de la Cruz claimed, “Joe Biden abandoned us and our border,” in a commercial about border security.
Some candidates just attacked the president without mentioning his agenda or policy platform.
Alabama’s governor Kay Ivey ran an ad starting on February 8, telling voters, “Growing up, my mom and dad told us, ‘If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.’ Well, here's what I have to say about Joe Biden,” followed by almost ten seconds of no words and a clock ticking.
A new category that claimed the second top spot on the boogeyman list this month was Republican candidates attacking ideas and groups like, “socialism,” “the woke mob,” and “the radical left.”
One Nebraska GOP candidate for governor, Jim Pillen, called these ideas “hogwash” in an ad that started running on February 5 in his state.
“The radical left and liberal media have lost their minds,” he says at the beginning of the ad, before adding, “After 40 years of raising pigs, I know slop when I see it. So, when university liberals pushed an anti-American agenda, I stood up to their socialist nonsense and never back down. Some call it woke. Others call it politically correct. I call it hogwash.”
Other recurring “boogeymen” in February included White House Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
However, this month they were often attacked by candidates alongside President Biden. For example, in an ad that started running in Alabama on February 18, Senate candidate Katie Britt says, “Biden and Fauci want to shut everything down, steal our freedoms and lecture us about right and wrong.”
New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan reserves $13 million for fall re-election bid in New Hampshire
Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., has reserved $13 million worth of fall airtime for her re-election bid, her campaign announced Friday in a memo shared first with NBC News.
It’s a substantial commitment in a state that national Democrats and Republicans are targeting in their battle for control of the chamber, and one where the pricey Boston media market in neighboring Massachusetts is key to reaching voters. TV and radio advertising could come at a premium cost, especially with an open race for governor on the ballot in Massachusetts.
The GOP, meanwhile, won’t have a Senate nominee until after their mid-September primary. State Senate President Chuck Morse, Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith and Don Bolduc, who lost a 2020 Senate primary, are the leading candidates.
Gov. Chris Sununu, who public polls released last year showed would have been very competitive against Hassan, decided against seeking the seat, depriving the party of a field-clearing contender with statewide name-recognition and popularity.
“New Hampshire hosts the second latest primary in the nation — September 13 — giving the eventual Republican nominee little time — and few resources — to communicate after emerging from what is set to be an extreme and chaotic primary,” Hassan campaign manager Aaron Jacobs wrote in the memo, which deems Hassan in a “commanding position” in the race. “No matter who the Republicans nominate, they will enter the general election tarnished as a reliable vote for [Senate GOP Leader Mitch] McConnell and his corporate special interest agenda.”
Ad reservations can be canceled, but Jacobs in his memo pointed to five straight quarters of record fundraising, a trend that, if it continues, should provide enough cash for the blitz.
Hassan entered 2022 with $5.3 million on hand, according to campaign finance reports. Bolduc, a retired Army brigadier general and the only Republican who had a campaign up and running in 2021, had only $57,000. Morse and Smith declared their candidacies in January and have yet to file finance reports.
The race has already drawn almost $17 million in TV ads, $9.8 million from Democrats (including $3.3 million from Hassan's campaign) and $7.1 million from Republicans, according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact.
Jacobs’ memo also sketched out Hassan’s messaging strategy in what’s expected to be a close race in a state known for its independent-minded voters.
“Our campaign’s greatest strength is Senator Hassan — who has built a strong record in the Senate as an independent leader who takes on corporate special interests — and wins,” Jacobs wrote, noting her work to end surprise medical billing and negotiate the bipartisan infrastructure deal and her push for a federal gas tax holiday.
The campaign also is prepared to emphasize occasions when Hassan has “been unafraid” to disagree with President Joe Biden. She voted against Robert Califf, Biden’s nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration, expressing concern about his approach to the opioid crisis. And she criticized the Biden administration’s handling of the Afghanistan troop withdrawal.
“Senator Hassan has a long record of getting wins for the people of New Hampshire and is leading on the most urgent issue facing voters: lowering costs,” Jacobs wrote. “Meanwhile, her opponents are unknown, disliked, and already burdened with toxic anti-choice, pro-corporate special interest records.”
Morgan Luttrell projected to win GOP primary in Texas' 8th Congressional District
Republican Morgan Luttrell, a combat veteran who served in the Energy Department, is projected to win his party's primary in Texas' 8th Congressional District, NBC News projects, making him the favorite to win the seat in the fall.
NBC's Decision Desk projected Thursday afternoon that Luttrell, whose vote share currently sits at 52 percent, would win the majority needed to advance to the general election and avoid a runoff. Democrat Laura Jones ran unopposed in the Democratic primary in the Houston-area district, which former President Donald Trump won by 27 points in 2020.
Luttrell has the backing of Republicans like former Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Dan Crenshaw and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, as well as the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Republican Rep. Kevin Brady, who has represented the area since 1997, did not seek re-election.
Arizona GOP Gov. to donors: I'm not running for Senate
Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said he will not run for Senate this year, the latest establishment figure to walk away from those urging him to run in a key state on the party's path toward retaking the Senate majority.
In a letter being sent Thursday from Ducey obtained by NBC News, the governor recounts how "a number of people have asked me to reconsider," but that "my mind hasn't changed."
"By nature and by training I'm an executive," he wrote. "These days, if you're going to run for public office, you really have to want the job. Right now I have the job I want."
Ducey, who cannot run for another term as governor because of term limits, has resisted calls to run for Senate from top Republicans for months. The New York Times reported two weeks ago that the pressure campaign included former President George W. Bush and top GOP strategist Karl Rove.
And Ducey is the third GOP governor to pass on a Senate bid. Last month, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced he wouldn’t run, while New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu ruled out a Senate bid earlier despite a similar lobbying campaign from top Republicans.
His decision leaves Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Thiel Foundation President Blake Masters and businessman Jim Lamon as the Arizona Republican Party's top candidates in the race against Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. Kelly has been a strong fundraiser and has tried to fashion himself as bipartisan in a politically divided state, but Republicans are hopeful the political winds will help them win back the seat Kelly won in 2020.
But that Senate GOP primary has been, in large part, a race to the right, with the candidates boosting Republican dissent over the results of the 2020 election. It's an issue Ducey crossed former President Donald Trump on — after Ducey certified the state's election results in 2020, he weathered repeated public criticism from Trump himself. Just in January at a rally in Arizona, Trump said from the stage: “Ducey has been a terrible, terrible, terrible representative of your state.”
Even so, Ducey has continued to defend Trump’s relevancy within the party. In May 2021, he called Trump the leader of the GOP. And just in January, he doubled down on that statement.
In his letter, Ducey says he's going to focus on this final year in office as well as his role as the chair of the Republican Governors’ Association to “help elected Republican governors across the country” before deciding what to do next.
"Rest assured, I am fully committed to helping elect a Republican US Senator from Arizona,” he wrote, asserting that “we have a strong field of candidates in Arizona” and may be “perhaps weighing in before the primary.”
Democrats reveled in the news, with Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Patrick Burgwinkle saying in a statement that "once again, Senate Republicans’ recruitment efforts have failed, and their top potential candidates are refusing to run against strong Democratic Senators like Mark Kelly."
—Ben Kamisar contributed.
Democratic Senate candidates seize on sign of Ron Johnson slide in Wisconsin
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson’s favorability is sliding in Wisconsin — and Democrats are salivating over what they say is their best chance to oust the two-term senator.
But just who would take on Johnson in the general election is far from decided. More than half of the Wisconsinites surveyed in a new poll have yet to decide whom they’ll support in the Democratic primary for the Senate. The Republican primary for governor appears wide open, too.
Those were among the findings in the much-anticipated Marquette Law School poll released Wednesday — the first major survey of Wisconsin races in 2022 before the August primaries.
Johnson’s favorability weighed in at 33 percent, a 3-point drop since last fall’s Marquette survey. Johnson’s approval has steadily declined since 2019, when the same poll had him at 40 percent favorable and 29 percent unfavorable.
“The poll shows that Ron Johnson is probably the most unpopular senator in America and why Wisconsin is the most competitive senate race in the country,” said Irene Lin, a spokesperson for Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, one of many candidates in the Democratic primary Aug. 9. “It shows it’s a wide-open race on the Democratic side.”
The Johnson campaign rejected a narrative of a steady decline, noting a 3-point drop since October was within the poll's margin of error and pointed to Democrats having to contend with other dynamics, including inflation concerns. “Senator Johnson has never worried about public polls because they’ve been wildly inaccurate in the past,” campaign spokesman Jake Wilkins said.
NBC News previously reported that national Republicans have committed to backing Johnson. His electability has been doubted before — including by his own party — only for him to prove them wrong.
“Ron Johnson continues to demand accountability in Washington and deliver results for Wisconsinites while Wisconsin Democrats trip over themselves to prove who’s more liberal” said Lizzie Litzow, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "Today’s polling shows that there’s no clear front-runner in the Democrat primary, guaranteeing a nasty and prolonged fight for the nomination. No matter who the Democratic candidate is, they will be far too liberal for Wisconsinites and won’t beat Ron Johnson come November.”
The poll of 802 registered Wisconsin voters was conducted Feb. 22-27. Its margin of error was +/- 3.8 percent.
The head-to-head comparison in the Democratic primary for the Senate showed Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes at 23 percent support, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry at 13 percent, Nelson at 5 percent and State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski at 3 percent.
“Despite a large number of undecided voters, Mandela holds a double-digit lead over his opponents and has more support than his next three primary opponents combined,” a spokesperson for his campaign, Maddy McDaniel, said in a statement.
Lasry’s campaign saw the Marquette survey as a validation of its own internal poll, which NBC News reported Tuesday, that suggested that he was within 8 points of Barnes, the best-known of the Democrats running for the Senate.
“Two days, two polls show essentially the same thing. Alex Lasry has made this into a two-person race and is closing fast,” said Mike Tate, a senior adviser to Lasry’s campaign.
Lasry has vastly outspent his competitors, having already dumped millions of dollars into TV and digital ads and more in direct mailers.
Nelson took an indirect jab at Lasry on Wednesday after the poll was released, tweeting: “$4 million is a lot for 13 percent.”
Sarah Abel, a spokesperson for Godlewski's campaign, also said the contest was “wide open” because of the number of undecided voters and said the campaign expects to expand its messaging on Godlewski “far and wide” to position her for the August primary.
Progressive groups launch ads pinning inflation on corporations following Biden's State of the Union nod
A pair of progressive groups are launching a six-figure ad campaign that will blame inflation on “corporate greed.”
The groups, Tax March and Accountable.US, will use the campaign to help Democrats go on the offensive on the issue of rising inflation — a problematic topic for the Biden administration that has been a focal point of attacks from Republicans heading into the 2022 midterm election cycle.
One 30-second spot, provided first to NBC News, features several CEOs of publicly traded companies — including Kroger, Chipotle, Kimberly-Clark and Chevron — speaking about how inflation has helped boost profits. The ad ends with banner in large font that reads, “Corporate greed is driving inflation.”
The campaign is designed to counter GOP-led attacks and is part of a strategy to shift blame about rising inflation from Democrats to corporations.
“In earnings calls and to their investors, corporate executives are saying the quiet part out loud: they are using the pandemic and supply chain issues as cover to raise prices and rake in record profits. We must hold corporations and greedy CEOs accountable for raising prices on essential goods to increase their profit margins in this tough time,” Tax March campaign director Sarah Baron told NBC News.
The ads — which will air Wednesday through Sunday on local and cable television in the Washington, D.C. media market, as part of an effort to target policy makers — follow a State of the Union address that Biden used to warn Americans of how inflation was “robbing” families of the gains of higher wages and job growth.”
Biden, in what appeared to be a new tack, used his speech to bash "trickle-down economics" and leaned heavily into blaming inflation on corporate greed and price-gouging.
"During the pandemic, these foreign-owned companies raised prices by as much as 1,000 percent and made record profits," he said. "Tonight, I'm announcing a crackdown on these companies overcharging American businesses and consumers."
Progressives have lauded the new approach.
"If swing voters listened to the State of the Union, they heard a Democratic president address rising costs by vowing to crack down on corporate price gouging,” Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Adam Green said. “If Democrats play offense on economics in 2022 and voters see the contrast on display during the State Of The Union, Democrats will win."
Inflation, at its highest levels in decades, has been cited by voters as a top concern — and a major reason for his weak approval ratings in polling.
Democratic hopes of turning Texas blue have dimmed
It was just a few years ago, after Beto O’Rourke’s narrow Senate loss in 2018, that Democrats thought winning Texas was finally within reach — if not in 2020, then certainly in coming election cycles due to the state’s changing demographics.
Today, however, turning the Lone Star State blue appears farther away from Democrats than ever.
Just look at the turnout numbers from Tuesday’s Texas primaries: With more than 90 percent of the vote in, 1.9 million Republican voters participated in the GOP’s gubernatorial primary that Gov. Greg Abbott easily won, versus 1 million who took part in the Democratic primary that Beto O’Rourke carried. Abbott and O’Rourke will face off in November’s general election for governor.
(By comparison, in 2018’s Senate primaries, the GOP’s turnout advantage was about half that size, 1.5 million for Republicans, versus 1 million for Democrats.)
And while the GOP’s gubernatorial primary Tuesday night was more competitive than the Democrats’ — Abbott faced challengers from his right flank — the Republican turnout advantage was about the same for the state’s intraparty contests for attorney general, where both Democrats and Republicans featured crowded fields of candidates.
Nearly 1.9 million Republicans voted in their AG race, versus almost 1 million for Democrats, according to the latest figures as of Wednesday morning.
Primary turnout is only one part of the equation why political observers aren’t bullish about Democrats’ chances in 2022. Another is President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings in the state, which have sunk to the low 30s — signaling a rough midterm environment for Democrats.
Then there’s the Democratic Party’s current struggles in rural America, which make winning Texas statewide in general elections nearly impossible. In the 2020 presidential election, which saw record turnout in the Lone Star State and elsewhere, Biden won the state’s major metropolitan areas and suburbs — like in Austin, Houston, Dallas and even Ft. Worth.
But Donald Trump racked up 80 percent-to-20-percent — and sometimes even 90 percent-to-10 percent — margins in Texas’ rural counties, which propelled him to a 5.6-point victory in the state, 52.1 percent to 46.5 percent.
And finally and maybe most importantly, the Republican Party made noticeable gains in Latino-heavy South Texas in 2020, which appear to be carrying over to 2022.
Whether it’s sheer numbers, Biden’s low standing, the Democratic struggles in rural America and Republican gains with Latinos — Texas isn’t truly on the battleground map this November.
And might not be come 2024, either.
Texas primary night: What we still don't know
Votes are continuing to pour in from Texas' Tuesday primary. And NBC's Decision Desk has already projected many of the top races, there are a few results still outstanding. Here's a look at the top races we are still waiting for the Decision Desk to project:
Texas 28th District Democratic primary
The marquee congressional primary on Tuesday's schedule, this border-district battle might go to a runoff between the top two candidates. Incumbent Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar has 48.5 percent of the vote, compared to Jessica Cisneros' almost 47 percent of the vote, with few votes left to count. If neither candidate wins the majority, the two will go into runoff on May 24.
A runoff would prolong the brutal battle between the progressive Cisneros and the more moderate incumbent, who is caught up in an investigation tied to Azerbaijan. And the winner will go onto a tough general-election fight in a district that President Biden won by 7 points in 2020.
Texas 8th District Republican primary
Morgan Lutrell — a combat veteran endorsed by Republicans like former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the House leadership-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund — currently sits at just under 53 percent, which would be enough to win the race outright if it holds. If he falls under 50 percent, he could face off against Christian Collins, whose endorsements include Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
The winner of this primary will likely decide who replaces the retiring GOP Rep. Kevin Brady, in a heavily Republican district.
Texas 15th District Democratic primary
While Republicans have settled on their nominee in the 15th District, one of the state’s few competitive House districts, Democrats will decide their candidate in May.
Republican Monica de la Cruz, who ran unsuccessfully in 2020, avoided a runoff in the GOP primary. On the Democratic side, attorney Ruben Ramirez, an Army veteran, advanced to the May runoff with 28 percent of the vote. Businesswoman Michelle Vallejo, who has 20 percent of the vote so far, is in a close race for the second runoff spot against attorney John Rigney, who has 19 percent of the vote. Republicans are eyeing the 15th District as a top pickup opportunity.
Trump would have carried the district, which stretches from Austin to the Mexican border, by 3 points had the new lines been in place in 2020.
Texas 30th District Democratic primary
The Democratic primary to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson in Texas’ 30th District is still in flux.
Johnson encouraged state Rep. Jasmine Crockett to run for the seat, and Crockett currently leads the field with more than 48 percent of the vote, just shy of the threshold to avoid a runoff. Former congressional staffer Jane Hope Hamilton, who outraised Crockett in the race, is in second place with 17 percent of the vote.The eventual Democratic nominee will be in a strong position to win the Dallas-area seat. Biden would have won the district by 57 points.
Nearly $65 million spent on Texas primary ads
Millions of dollars in ads have flooded the Texas airwaves ahead of Tuesday’s primary, with the vast majority of the spending focused on contested GOP primaries.
Roughly $64.6 million has been spent on ads in the Texas primaries, according to the ad tracking firm AdImpact. Republicans have spent $50.8 million on ads in Texas primary contests, while Democrats have spent $13.8 million.
The Texas GOP gubernatorial primary has drawn the most money, with Republican candidates spending nearly $14.2 million on ads. GOP Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign has been the top advertiser in the state, dropping nearly $8.8 million on ads as he faces a pair of primary challengers: Florida Congressman-turned-former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West and former state Sen. Don Huffines.
Huffines, who has self-funded his campaign, has spent nearly $5.1 million on the airwaves while West has spent $235,000. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the favorite to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary, has spent $451,000 on ads so far.
Abbott, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, has had a massive financial advantage in the race. As of Feb. 19 his campaign had $50 million in cash on hand, per a campaign finance filing.
Republicans have also spent $13.8 million on ads in the Texas attorney general’s race, where incumbent Ken Paxton is facing Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Rep. Louie Gohmert.
Guzman has spent the most on ads, dropping $5.5 million on the airwaves while Paxton has spent $4 million, Bush has spent nearly $3.6 million and Gohmert has spent $781,000.
Democrats, meanwhile, have spent $4.2 million on ads in Texas’ 28th District, where Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar faces a primary rematch against progressive attorney Jessica Cisneros. Cisneros’ campaign has outspent Cuellar on the airwaves, spending $1.2 million to Cuellar’s $968,000.
Ben Kamisar contributed to this report.
Pro-Biden group launches ads to amplify president's economic message
Building Back Together, a group that was formed by allies of President Biden to promote his agenda, is kicking off a $1 million ad campaign to amplify the economic message he’s expected to lay out in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
The ads are slated to appear on TV radio and digital platforms in eight battleground states, as well as Washington, D.C. They are aimed at burnishing Biden’s credentials as a president who is fighting for the middle class, while trying to strike the balance between giving the president credit for what his allies see as his achievements and acknowledging the continued economic struggles of many across the country.
The ads feature Americans praising Biden for steps he’s already taken to help their businesses and making the case that they believe he’s still trying to do more.
In one of the ads, entitled “Truck,” a woman named Gail who has diabetes says Biden is fighting to lower prescription drug prices, including for insulin. “We just want to be able to afford a middle class life,” she says, noting that she’s been driving the same car for nearly 20 years.
In another ad, a restaurant owner named Ernisha credits Biden for her business being able to grow despite some setbacks during Covid. “He was able to come in and turn our economy around,” she says. “He gave businesses the support they needed when they needed it.”
She concludes the ad by saying, “we have a president that’s on our side.”
The ads coincide with White House efforts to reshape Biden’s economic message ahead of the midterms, to one that balances seeking credit for his policies and expressing empathy for the economic struggles of Americans.
One person involved with the ad campaign said the tone of the ads is aimed at “meeting the American people where they are,” with some feeling better about the economy since Biden took office but others not. The goal, this person said, is to convey that Americans trust Biden to continue working on these issues because they believe he’s on their side.
Building Back Together will direct the ads at “key constituencies” in battleground states, according to a press release. Digital ads will appear on platforms such as Facebook and YouTube in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, Florida and New Hampshire, the release says. There also will be digital ads aimed at Black communities in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Atlanta and Philadelphia, and ones in English and Spanish targeting Latino communities in Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia. Ads in Spanish will run on radio in Miami and Milwaukee. TV ads will appear in Phoenix, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Top Democratic governors say party needs less 'process' and more empathy ahead of 2022
PALM BEACH, Fla. — Top Democratic governors leading the party's efforts to win gubernatorial races want the party to shed the process debates that have bogged Democrats down in the first year of President Joe Biden's administration and instead focus on a more empathetic message that explains how they believe the party can be responsive on kitchen-table issues.
During a wide-ranging conversation on the sidelines of the Democratic Governors Association's meeting last weekend, both Govs. Roy Cooper N.C., and Phil Murphy, N.J. (the group's chair and vice chair), admitted that the national political environment isn't where Democrats would want it to be ahead of the midterm elections, and one of them said the party was “late on inflation.”
But they both argued that the national dynamics are shifting, thanks in no small part to a receding wave of Covid, in a way they hope will give Democrats more freedom to go on offense ahead of the fall.
"Whether it's American Rescue Plan money that's not yet spent, or the bipartisan infrastructure law monies, folks will see visible evidence of shovels in the ground, things getting done," Murphy said.
"I think we're in a meaningfully better place six, eight months from now than we are today," Murphy said. "In fact, you're already starting to see it, you can just feel it. We're going from pandemic to endemic. You just have that — you feel like we're getting the kick in our step back, and I think that's going to be hugely beneficial to Democratic incumbents and Democratic candidates."
Biden has seen his approval marks slip during his first year in office — 43 percent of Americans approved of his job performance in the January NBC News poll, with 54 percent disapproving. Majorities also disapproved of his handling of Covid and the economy specifically. Republicans have pointed to numbers like those, and results like last year's Republican victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race, to argue that the GOP will clean up in this fall's elections.
“Washington has lost its way under the Biden Administration and Democrats in Congress. Republican governors have proven there’s a better way to govern, one that gives families more freedom, more safety, and a better economic future,” Nebraska Republican Gov. Pete Rickets, who co-chairs the Republican Gubernatorial Association, said in a statement this week.
Both of the Democratic governors agreed that the months-long debate in Congress over the Democrats' Build Back Better agenda, which has failed to make it to Biden's desk, served as a major distraction to what Murphy called "historic investment in our country" that's been "undersold."
"You're seeing governors who are using American Rescue Plan funds to put checks in pockets of everyday families," Cooper said. "So the feds are arguing with each other and pounding on the table and posturing. Governors are getting things done on the ground."
When pressed about the party's handling of the economy, Murphy admitted that Democrats were "late on inflation," spending too long arguing "it's transitory and it's going to go away."
One possible solution? A greater emphasis on empathy — something they believe has helped Democrats win tough races in the past, and something they believe Biden can help lead on.
"We have a different kind of office, and it's why governors have been able to win in states that Donald Trump won," Cooper said. "Can we can distinguish ourselves from a lot of the general frustration and say, 'Hey, we understand your frustration. We're doing something about it?' I think that that that will shine through."
As Republicans battle in a number of fiery primaries where echoing former President Donald Trump's lies about the 2020 election remains a top issue, the governors said that GOP division and focus on the issue will help Democrats.
"We have people who have demonstrated that they would prefer an autocracy as long as their guy’s in charge. That ought to be deeply concerning to every American," Cooper said. "That’s going to be an important product of Democratic governors winning’ but we have to talk about other things.
Internal poll suggests ad blitz could be paying off for Wis. Senate candidate Alex Lasry
Spending on TV and digital messaging may be starting to pay off for Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate Alex Lasry, according to new internal polling.
A campaign memo, first shared with NBC News, suggests the Milwaukee Bucks executive has narrowed the gap to just 8 percentage points behind Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who was the clear front-runner in polls last year. The new numbers from polling firm Normington Petts found a 31-point swing — plus 23 for Lasry, minus 8 for Barnes — since an August poll.
The internal figures were released just a day before a Marquette Law School poll, the first public survey of the Wisconsin candidates this year.
But Lasry’s numbers are nonetheless intriguing. There are a dearth of polls on the Wisconsin Senate primary and a notable disparity in ad spending among the candidates.
Pollster Jill Normington said one clear takeaway from the survey was that 75 percent of Democratic primary voters cared more about who could beat GOP Sen. Ron Johnson than about who held the most progressive views.
Of those polled, 36 percent said Lasry was best suited to beat Johnson, while 28 percent chose Barnes.
The Barnes campaign had no comment on the Lasry memo.
The electability argument is reminiscent of President Joe Biden’s primary campaign in 2020, when he warned of competitors’ moving too far left and instead leaned into his appeal to older white voters.In Wisconsin, the Democratic primary electorate is 80 to 88 percent white and majority white non-college, Normington said.
“I think a lot of people think that every Democratic primary electorate in America looks like the one in New York City,” Normington said in an interview. “That’s not what a Wisconsin primary looks like.”
Barnes has come under criticism over past statements he's made perceived to be in support of defunding the police. The Barnes campaign sent a response clarifying those past statements, which it says were not in support of doing away with police. “The Lieutenant Governor does not support defunding the police,” Barnes spokesperson Maddy McDaniel, said in a statement. “What he does support is investing just as heavily in preventing crime from occurring in the first place, in addition to ensuring law enforcement agencies have the resources they need.”
Irene Lin, a spokesperson for Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, who is also running, said that “electability is the issue that Dem voters care about most … not who has the most to spend on TV ads,” and pointed to Nelson’s ability to win six times in a Trump county.
Still, Normington said the Lasry campaign isn’t pushing an electability argument but rather talking about issues like economic growth and voting rights.
“We went from a 39-point deficit six months ago to an 8-point deficit today,” Normington said. Potential voters “are coming to believe that because of the issues that we are talking about, Alex is the better candidate to take on Ron Johnson in November.”
Lasry has vastly outspent his Democratic primary opponents on TV and digital messaging, pouring more than $3 million into ads since last year, according to an analysis by NBC News. That’s compared to only nominal spending by other campaigns, with the exception of that of Sarah Godlewski, the state’s treasurer, who has spent just less than $200,000 on ads.
The Marquette poll will soon reveal another measure of just how effective Lasry has been at winning over voters. But the two surveys won't provide an apples-to-apples comparison. The Marquette poll’s sampling is about 800 voters, with about 350 likely primary voters in each party, and some of those queried were not primary voters, according to the chief pollster, Charles Franklin. The Normington Petts sampling was 600 — all likely Democratic primary voters. It was conducted Feb. 22-27 and reported a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Ben Kamisar contributed to this report
Republicans hold large lead in early Texas primary vote
More than 1 million Texans have voted early in the Republican primary, surpassing the 626,000 early votes cast in the Democratic primary ahead of Tuesday’s elections.
The percentage of ballots cast early is still low, with 6 percent of registered voters casting ballots in the GOP primary and nearly 4 percent voting in the Democratic primary as of Friday, the last day of early voting, according to data from the Texas Secretary of State’s office.
The higher number of GOP votes is likely due to contested Republican primaries for governor and attorney general that have drawn millions in ad spending.
Gov. Greg Abbott, who has a sizable financial advantage in his primary, faces two challengers on his right: former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West and former state Sen. Don Huffines. Attorney General Ken Paxton faces land commissioner George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Rep. Louie Gohmert.
“I'm not surprised Republican turnout is ahead of Democratic turnout,” said Matt Mackowiak, a GOP consultant and Travis County GOP Chairman. “It would honestly be a pretty big warning sign if it wasn't.”
Mackowiak said the factors driving turnout include the better funded and more competitive statewide primaries; more competitive primaries at the state legislative level; and high Republican enthusiasm. He noted the GOP has also made inroads in South Texas, where voters who may have voted in Democratic primaries in the past are opting to vote in Republican contests. Texans do not register to vote by party, and can vote in either party’s open primary.
Democrats do have a handful of contested House primaries, most notably the race between Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar and attorney Jessica Cisneros in the 28th District. In the governor’s race, the top Democrat competing to take on Abbott in November is former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2020 and made a failed run for Senate in 2018.
Although more votes had been cast in the GOP primary overall, Democrats have seen more ballots cast by mail. Roughly 70,000 votes have been cast by mail in the Democratic primary, compared to 49,000 in the GOP primary.
New voting identification requirements have led to thousands of rejected absentee ballots, according to an analysis from The New York Times. The Times found roughly 30 percent of absentee ballots in 10 of the state’s most populous counties had been rejected as of Wednesday.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green defends speech to far-right gathering
ORLANDO, Fla. — One day after attending a conference of far-right activists in Florida, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., referred to the attendees of the rally-like event as “patriots” even as she refused to answer questions about its white nationalist themes.
“I went to his event last night to address his very large following because it’s a very large following and a generation that I’m concerned about,” Greene said in remarks to reporters on Saturday.
The crowd at the conference, sponsored by the far-right America First Political Action Conference, roared in praise at the mention of Russia, chanted Vladimir Putin’s name and hollered in approval when the conference’s leader asserted on stage that “our secret sauce here is our young white men” just seven minutes before he invited Greene on stage, shook her hand and waved to the gathering.
Greene also spoke on Saturday, just down the road, at CPAC, the major annual conservative conference, where President Trump and other top Republicans were taking the stage over the weekend.
Nick Fuentes, the far-right AFPAC activist, was one of several speakers who delivered racist, homophobic and pro-male messaging.
The group’s heralding of Putin comes as the Russian autocrat leads his country’s military in a sustained invasion of Ukraine.
“Can we give a round of applause for Russia?” Fuentes urged the crowd, which responded loudly with praise. He followed: “The United States government has become the great evil empire of the world. ... We’ve got the Christian white men who built this country the first time, and we’ll do it again.”
The Georgia congresswoman refused to answer questions about her attendance or the views extolled by the event’s speakers.
“I’m only responsible for what I say,” Greene tweeted on Saturday.
In remarks to reporters, she said she opposed Russia’s military aggression.
“Vladimir Putin is a murderer, and he should have never invaded Ukraine,” Greene said. She also, generally, suggested that she “is not aligned with anything that may be controversial.” She also asserted that she “does not endorse” white nationalism views.
Pompeo declines to say whether he regrets past Putin praise
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to say Friday that he regretted praising Russian President Vladimir Putin as Russian forces continued their assault on Ukraine.
Last week Pompeo said in a recent interview with The National Interest that he had “enormous respect” for Putin. He described the Russian president as “very savvy, very shrewd” and “an elegantly sophisticated counterpart and one who is not reckless but has always done the math.” Parts of Pompeo’s comments have reportedly appeared on Russian state television this week.
Pompeo, who served in former President Donald Trump’s administration, did not directly answer when asked Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida if he regretted those comments.
“I’ve been fighting communism since I was a teenager,” Pompeo told NBC News. “I’m going to keep fighting communism.”
Asked again if he regretted his comments Pompeo said, “I’ve worked my entire life to make sure the United States was free of communist dictatorships. I understand my enemy. I always call my enemy for what he is. We need to make sure that we continue to crush the Russians. They have now destroyed peoples’ lives in Kyiv.”
Texas primary candidates make their closing arguments on the airwaves
The Texas primary election is just a few days away and candidates for congressional seats and statewide office are making last-ditch appeals to voters in television ads this weekend.
Don Huffines, a Republican primary challenger to incumbent governor Greg Abbott, started running a TV ad just featuring text on Wednesday filled with GOP buzzwords and slogans.
The ad starts with slogans like, “Close the border. Stop giving illegals our money. Deport the invaders,” and continued on with others like, “No forced vaccines. No mask mandates. No critical race theory.” At the end the ad’s text read, “Nothing changes unless you do something about it. #FireAbbott #HireHuffines.”
In Texas’ 35th district, Democrat Greg Casar went up on the air with his first TV ad. Casar is running for an open seat vacated by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who is running in another district due to redistricting.
Casar, a former Austin City councilmember, opens his ad with a personal narrative.
“My first job was helping construction workers win the right to a water break. I learned that progressive change is possible if we fight for it,” he tells viewers. Then, he makes a progressive appeal to primary voters, “In Congress, I'll fight for a bold agenda for working families, expanding Medicare to every Texan, fixing our power grid and tackling the climate crisis,” Casar says.
A bit further South, in Texas’ 15th district, businesswoman Monica de la Cruz started running a new ad on Wednesday focused on the southern border and touting her recent endorsement from former President Donald Trump.
De la Cruz, a Republican, tells voters in the ad, “Socialists are ruining our border security and our economy. In Congress, I'll end the catch and release and always support our Border Patrol and law enforcement.” Then a narrator says, “That's why Monica is endorsed by President Trump.”
Just yesterday, in Texas’ 28th district, Justice Democrats, a progressive group, started running a Spanish-language version of an ad they released earlier, trying to appeal to Spanish-speaking Democrats ahead of Tuesday’s primary. The race there is a contentious one, where incumbent moderate Democrat Henry Cuellar faces a challenge from progressive attorney Jessica Cisneros.
In Spanish, the ad released yesterday accuses Cuellar of joining the Washington establishment and, “not doing much for.” The narrator then accuses Cuellar of flying in private jets and paying for his luxury car with campaign funds. At the end, the narrator says Cuellar has spent too much time in Washington and it’s time to elect someone, “who works for our interests,” touting Cisneros as a replacement for Cuellar.
Other candidates who’ve placed new ads on the air in recent days include Republican Nathanial Moran in Texas’ 1st District, Democrat Laura Cisneros in Texas’ 34th District, Republican Pete Sessions in Texas’ 17th District and Democrat Raymond Ramirez in Texas 15th District.
GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe backs top aide to replace him after retirement announcement
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., announced Thursday that he is planning to retire at the end of the year, and he’s already backing a former top aide to replace him in the Senate.
The five-term senator told The Oklahoman that he is endorsing his former chief of staff, Luke Holland, in the special election to serve out the final four years of Inhofe’s term. Holland did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but he left Inhofe's office on Thursday, according to Inhofe's spokesperson Leacy Burke.
Holland may not have the GOP primary to himself. The Oklahoman reported that Reps. Kevin Hern and Markwayne Mullin, as well as former state House speaker T.W. Shannon, are considered potential candidates.
The eventual GOP nominee would be in a strong position to win the seat, given Oklahoma’s partisan lean. Former President Donald Trump won the state by 33 percentage points in 2020.
Inhofe’s decision means the state will host two Senate elections this year, since GOP Sen. James Lankford is up for re-election. Lankford has already launched TV ads in his race as he faces two primary challengers.
The special election primary is expected to coincide with the previously scheduled statewide primary on June 28, and they could head to August runoffs if no candidate wins a majority of the vote.
The state GOP attempted to censure Lankford and Inhofe last year after both senators voted to certify the 2020 Electoral College votes, breaking with former President Donald Trump who falsely claimed the election was stolen. The state Republican Party ultimately rejected the resolution, which also called on both senators to resign. Inhofe told The Oklahoman the episode did not affect his decision to retire.
Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he will remain in office until the end of the year.
“I didn’t make a solid decision until two or three weeks ago,” he told The Oklahoman. “There has to be one day where you say, ‘All right, this is going to be it.’”
Inhofe said he decided to step down to spend more time with his wife, Kay. He has often rushed home each week and during congressional recesses to be with his wife, who has been sick.
Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed to this report.
Outside groups boost GOP lawmaker who voted to certify the 2020 results
Multiple outside groups are jumping into the GOP primary in Texas’ 3rd District to support GOP Rep. Van Taylor, who faces criticism for voting to certify the results of the 2020 election and supporting a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Three GOP groups have spent thousands to boost Taylor ahead of the March 1 contest. Taylor could be forced into a primary runoff in May if he does not win a majority of the primary vote on Tuesday.
The latest group spending in the race is the Elect Principled Veterans Fund, which is tied to the With Honor Fund, a group that describes itself as a “cross-partisan movement” to support veteran candidates. Taylor, a Marine veteran, served in Iraq. The Elect Principled Veterans fund has spent nearly $111,000, largely on digital ads, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC aligned with House leadership, has spent $150,000 on television ads and mail pieces to bolster Taylor. And Americans for Prosperity Action has spent $96,000 on canvassing, digital ads and mailers.
Taylor and his allies have also dominated the airwaves, spending a combined $824,000 on ads so far, according to the ad tracking firm AdImpact. He is is running for a third term to represent the Dallas area. The district would have backed former President Donald Trump by 14 percentage points had the new congressional boundaries been in place in 2020.
Taylor broke with Trump, and the majority of the GOP conference, when he opposed objections to two state’s Electoral College votes on Jan. 6. Taylor also supported an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, but later voted against founding a House committee to do so.
Those votes have fueled attacks from Taylor’s chief primary opponents, former Collin County Judge Keith Self and businesswoman Suzanne Harp, whose son, per the Texas Tribune, is North Carolina GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn chief of staff.
Taylor has outraised both candidates and his campaign had more money in its account heading into the final stretch of the race. As of Feb. 9, Taylor’s campaign had $827,000 on hand, while Self’s campaign had $92,000 on hand and Harp’s campaign had $47,000 on hand.
Ben Kamisar contributed to this report.
County to County: GOP candidate wins in closely watched Jacksonville city council race
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It’s the latest sign of the tough political environment for Democrats in competitive areas — the loss of an at-large city council race here in Duval County.
Jacksonville Republican Nick Howland defeated his Democratic opponent Tracye Polson Tuesday night, flipping the seat after a race that drew unusual focus from both political parties.
“This is the model for how we’re going to win the midterms and how we’re going to win the local elections next spring — we have figured it out,” Howland said at his victory event Tuesday night. Howland had made support for law enforcement and public safety a central focus of his campaign.
Unofficial results posted by the county show Howland earning 51.7 percent of the vote, with Polson receiving 48.3 percent. Voter turnout exceeded the expectations of election and party officials, breaking 20 percent for the special election run-off, in a race for a seat on the Republican-dominated council.
Howland’s win is a blow for county Democrats who have seen success with statewide candidates in recent cycles. Despite being an old Republican stronghold, Andrew Gillum and Joe Biden flipped Duval in 2018 and 2020, boosted by swings in suburban voters and growing minority populations.
But Republicans have been fighting to win it back.
“We’ve put more money, more resources, more energy into this single city council race than any city council race in our history,” Duval county’s Republican chair Dean Black told NBC News on the eve of the election. Gov. Ron DeSantis joined those efforts Monday, recording robocalls reminding Republicans to get out and vote.
Meanwhile, Duval’s Democratic Chair Daniel Henry told NBC News that his party made more than 150,000 phone calls, sent more than 200,000 text messages, and knocked on over 50,000 doors. But he warned even ahead of Tuesday’s election that President Biden’s stalled priorities is making his job harder.
“With Congress's inability to deal with police reform, to deal with Build Back Better, to deal with debt relief, to deal with parental leave — all these core issues that we ran on in 2020 — it makes it that more difficult for us to convince people to come out and vote again,” Henry said before Tuesday’s loss.
The RNC was quick to celebrate Tuesday night, showing their belief the result is a harbinger of GOP midterm wins.
“Good to see Florida Democrats aren’t waiting until November to start losing,” RNC Spokeswoman Julia Friedland said in a statement to reporters.
Trump’s endorsed candidates lost in Alabama in 2017. Could it happen again in 2022?
It’s no secret Donald Trump likes to win, especially when it comes to his endorsements in Republican primaries.
But in 2017, the former president struck out in Alabama when he backed two losing candidates in this deep-red state — first Luther Strange, who lost the GOP primary runoff to Roy Moore; and then the scandal-plagued Moore, who lost the general election to Democrat Doug Jones (though the GOP won back the seat in 2020).
Now as Alabama Republicans are competing to fill retiring Sen. Richard Shelby’s, R-Ala., seat, observers say there’s potential for Trump’s endorsed candidate to lose — again — in what has become a competitive GOP primary on May 24.
“Alabama races shift a lot eight weeks out, and they really start to solidify about two weeks out,” said Republican strategist Brent Buchanan. “And that’s usually because we don’t have one dominate candidate especially in open seat races like this.”
Last April, Trump gave his “complete and total endorsement” to Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., to fill the Senate seat Shelby is vacating. (Brooks finished third to Moore and Strange in that 2017 Alabama GOP primary.)
But that hasn't halted the efforts of Brooks’ top main challengers — Katie Britt, Shelby’s former chief of staff, and Mike Durant, an Army veteran whose 1993 capture in Somalia was featured in the film, Black Hawk Down.
Both candidates have raised more than the GOP congressman — with Britt having raised $5 million as of Dec. 31, Durant raising $4.3 million (though mainly with his own money), and Brooks bringing $2.1 million.
And the competitive primary has heightened the traditional split in Alabama between grassroots and business conservatives.
David Hughes, a political science professor at Auburn University (Montgomery), points out that the retiring Shelby has been the “embodiment” of the GOP’s business wing, and he has endorsed Britt, his former top aide who also served as president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama.
Internal polls released by the Britt campaign and the Club for Growth, which is backing Brooks, show all three candidates within striking distance. (If no candidate clears 50 percent plus one in the primary, the Top 2 advance to a June 21 runoff.)
Still, Brooks’ campaign sees the Trump endorsement as its strongest selling point.
“There is no political endorsement in America that moves the needle more than a Trump endorsement,” said Brooks campaign chairman Stan McDonald in a statement to NBC News. “The support of the Trump family, combined with MAGA patriots all over Alabama, is why the conservative grassroots are with Mo Brooks, and why he's going to win this race.”
Back in July, Trump released his own statement, arguing that Britt is “not in any way qualified and is certainly not what our country needs or not what Alabama wants.”
Britt and her allies have responded by portraying her as “100 percent pro-Trump.” And Politico reports that Britt met with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago home on Feb. 15, though the former president didn’t switch his endorsement. Durant, emphasizing his military experience and outsider status, has been attacking Brooks and Britt as “career politicians.”
While the two candidates Trump endorsed lost in Alabama five years ago, Auburn’s Hughes explains the circumstances were far different then.
Strange was appointed by the scandal-plagued former Gov. Robert Bentley, who resigned in disgrace just a few months after the appointment.
And after upsetting Strange in the primary, Moore was accused of sexual misconduct and pursuing relationships with underage women earlier in his career.
“Republicans didn’t want to turn out, because so many people couldn’t vote for Roy Moore and couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Doug Jones either,” said Hughes.
Cisneros significantly outraises Cuellar ahead of March 1 primary
Texas Democratic challenger Jessica Cisneros massively out-fundraised her primary rival, Rep. Henry Cuellar, in the first five weeks of 2022, as Cisneros tries to topple the incumbent whose re-election has been roiled by an FBI investigation.
Cisneros raised $707,000 between Jan. 1 and Feb. 9, the latest period covered by campaign finance reports due Thursday. By comparison, Cuellar raised $147,000.
But Cuellar had a spending edge over Cisneros during that time — he dug deep into his cash reserves, spending $1.2 million and ending Feb. 9 with nearly $1.3 million in cash on hand. Cisneros spent $791,000 and had $410,000 in the bank. Both candidates spent the bulk of their campaign cash on ads. Cuellar’s campaign spent $794,000 on media buys and ads while Cisneros’ campaign spent $583,000 on TV spots.
With the March 1 primary just weeks away, the race between the two candidates has gotten more personal. Cuellar launched a new ad this week attacking Cisneros' immigration record, while Cisneros has been criticizing Cuellar after the FBI raided his home and campaign office as part of an investigation.
Former NYT columnist Kristof blocked from ballot as state Supreme Court denies residency claim
Former New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof will not appear on the ballot in Oregon's gubernatorial race after the state Supreme Court denied his residency claim.
Gubernatorial candidates must be a resident of the state for three years ahead of the election, and last month, the secretary of state’s office ruled that Kristof, who lived and voted in New York as recently as 2020, did not qualify. In pleading his case, Kristof argued that he grew up in Oregon, has owned property there for years, and considers himself a resident.
But while the Supreme Court didn't directly rule whether Kristof met the residency bar, the justices effectively ruled that it was reasonable for the Secretary of State to decide he did not.
"The secretary was not compelled to conclude, on the record before her, that [Kristof] satisfied that [residency] requirement," the court wrote.
In a statement on Twitter, Kristof called the decision “very disappointing” and acknowledged he will not be on the ballot.
He had been a prolific fundraiser, so the finality of the decision resets the race to replace Gov. Kate Brown.
Trump makes endorsement in South Texas congressional primary
Former President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that he’s endorsing businesswoman Monica de la Cruz in the Republican primary for Texas’ 15th Congressional District in South Texas— a seat opened because incumbent Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, is running in another district following redistricting.
Trump praised De La Cruz in a statement as "a successful small businesswoman" who will "fight hard to Grow our Economy, Secure our Border, Uphold the Rule of Law, Support our Military and Vets, and Defend the Second Amendment."
De La Cruz tweeted she is "honored to receive the endorsement" — she's also been sharing an ad touting her support for the border wall, adding she wants to "finish what Trump started."
De La Cruz is one of the two frontrunners in the GOP contest, along with businessman Mauro Garza. De La Cruz was previously endorsed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. She ran against Gonzalez in 2020, where Gonzalez won with 51 percent of the vote to de la Cruz’s 48 percent.
With the March 1 primary looming, the Republican contest has already been contentious. De la Cruz grabbed headlines for allegations of “cruel treatment” from her ex-husband and his daughter from another marriage.
Just last week, Garza started running ads attacking de la Cruz.
“Monica de La Cruz has failed at everything she's done. Delinquent tax payments, unpaid loans, over a million dollars in debt. The last thing we need in Congress is another failure,” a narrator says in Garza’s ad.
The Democratic field is relatively new to the race. Texas didn’t fully approve new district lines until October, so Gonzalez didn’t formally announce his intent to run in another district until November. Meanwhile, some Republicans have been engaged in the race since early 2021, seeing it as a seat they can flip in November's general election.
The Democratic frontrunners are moderates Ruben Ramirez and Eliza Alvarado, as well as progressive Michelle Vallejo. Alvarado previously worked for former Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, who held the seat before Gonzalez. Ramirez is a veteran and trial attorney. Vallejo was recruited to run and endorsed by the progressive group LUPE Votes.
The district is expected to be one of the Lone Star State's few competitive races in November. Trump would have carried the 15th District by just 3 percentage points had the new lines been in place in 2020.
Retiring Ohio GOP Senator Portman backs Timken in crowded primary
Retiring Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman has endorsed Jane Timken, the state's former Republican Party chair, in the crowded primary race to replace the two-term senator when he leaves office at the end of the year.
Portman unveiled his pick on Twitter, extolling Timken's record and arguing he's "confident" she can "win both the primary and the general elections, ensuring that this Senate seat remains Republican with a 50-50 Senate, and so much at stake."
Timken responded with a statement of her own, calling Portman "a thoughtful, conservative leader who has served Ohio with distinction." But with a possible eye to the complicated dynamics in the crowded GOP primary, she added that Portman "successfully led the effort to pass President Trump’s tax cuts" and "worked with President Trump to advance three conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court."
The nod gives Timken the backing of a major figure in the Ohio Republican old guard. Portman was a former top administration official under Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush as well as a longtime congressman before being elected to the Senate in 2010.
Timken campaign manager Rob Secaur told NBC that the endorsement is expected to lead to an influx of donations, at least $850,000, from donors who said they would give to the campaign if Timken won Portman's support.
Portman backing Timken to succeed him comes as a flurry of recently-surfaced internal polling paints the picture of a crowded primary. Most of those polls have former State Treasurer Josh Mandel toward the top of the pack, but candidates and outside groups have largely focused on attacking other candidates. Businessman Bernie Moreno dropped an ad this week that attacks both Timken and author J.D. Vance, while super PACs have been coming in to aid Timken, Vance and Mandel.
And the signal from Portman also follows the news that state Sen. Matt Dolan had given his campaign at least $10.5 million, money he's been spending on the airwaves to help boost his candidacy. Dolan has stood out in his attempts to style himself more in the footsteps of a politician like Portman, distancing himself from Trump and being the only candidate to back the bipartisan infrastructure deal Portman championed.
Dolan addressed the endorsement of Timken in a statement to NBC News.
“In my conversations with Senator Portman over the past year, including this morning, he made clear that his support for Jane Timken was predicated on personal friendship. I respect Rob’s service, but each day more and more Ohio Republicans recognize the fact I am the only candidate with a record of conservative leadership that gets results for Ohio," he said.
"This seat in the Senate belongs to the people of Ohio, and as their next Senator I will work every day to put their needs and interests first.”
Portman won re-election in 2016 by more than 20 points despite Democrats initially hoping to make his race competitive, with the Republican outperforming Trump by 12 points. One of the key figures in Portman's 2016 victory, campaign manager Corry Bliss, is now advising Timken.
GOP senators take sides in Missouri Senate race
Two GOP senators have picked favorites in the Missouri Senate primary in recent days, further dividing the crowded Republican field.
On Wednesday Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, backed Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, writing in a tweet that Schmitt “is a fighter who will hold China accountable, defend religious freedom, take on Big Tech, and he will protect American jobs.”
The Cruz endorsement came after Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., received the backing of home state GOP Sen. Josh Hawley over the weekend. Hartzler’s fellow House member and Senate contender, Rep. Billy Long, sharply criticized Hawley for endorsing the congresswoman, telling Politico that “everything is calculated that Josh does.”
Hawley deflected Long's comments in remarks to reporters Wednesday, arguing that "people take disappointing news in different ways" and that "this wasn't an endorsement against anybody, it was an endorsement for Vicki."
He went on praise Hartzler as someone who has "been fighting" on "issues that really matter to Missourians," mentioning the "Covid hysteria that has hurt children" with school mandates and virtual learning, as well as "protecting women's sports" and "election integrity."
The race for the GOP nomination remains wide open. Schmitt led the field in fundraising in the most recent quarter, which spanned from October through Dec. 31. He raised $652,000, while former Gov. Eric Greitens raised $544,000, Long raised $471,000, Hartzler raised $447,000 and attorney Mark McCloskey, who made headlines in 2020 for waving a gun at Black Lives Matter protesters, raised $267,000.
Democrat Lucas Kunce, a former Marine, bested all of the Missouri Senate candidates with an $849,000 haul. But Hartzler ended the quarter with the most money in her campaign account, with nearly $1.7 million on hand.
The race to replace retiring Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt is not expected to be competitive come November. Former President Donald Trump won the Show Me State by 15 points in 2020 and the Cook Political Report rates the race Solid Republican.
But some Republicans, including National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott, have expressed concerns that Greitens could win the GOP nomination and endanger the GOP hold on the seat. Greitens left office in 2018 amid multiple scandals involving sexual misconduct and campaign finance violations.
Rubio leads Demings in new Florida Senate poll
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is running ahead of his likely Democratic challenger in Florida, according to a new poll that indicates he is being buoyed by independents souring on President Joe Biden.
In a general election matchup, Rubio leads Rep. Val Demings by 49 percent to 42 percent largely because of solid support from independent voters, who favor him by a 10 percentage-point margin, according to a survey of registered voters from Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy that was released Wednesday.
Rubio — a 2016 presidential candidate and national figure in the GOP — also had 95 percent name ID among voters in the survey, suggesting he is far better known statewide than Demings, whom 68 percent of Florida voters recognize.
Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker said Demings is probably hurt most by her association with Biden, whose approval among Florida voters stands at 40 percent, according to the poll.
“Demings' biggest problem isn’t that the Democratic votes aren’t there. It’s just that it’s hard to make the case to voters when independents dislike Biden by 2-to-1,” Coker said.
Coker said the Democrats seeking to unseat Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis this year are facing the same headwinds as Demings in the state.
Club for Growth targets Latino voters on Biden's pledge to nominate a Black woman to Supreme Court
The conservative group Club for Growth is running Spanish-language ads in Nevada and Arizona targeting Latino voters about President Joe Biden's promise to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court.
The ad — which will also run in English on digital platforms in the Washington, D.C. area — shows the faces and names of Hispanic judges.
An advance copy and details of the ad were shared exclusively with NBC News.
"These are qualified minority judges who aren't being considered for the Supreme Court because they're not black women," the text on the screen reads while the judges names and photos appear. "Biden chose radical racial politics instead of qualified judges."
"Biden’s brand of racial politics excludes and alienates too many Americans and it’s wrong," Club for Growth President David McIntosh said in a statement. "This ad is the beginning of a long-term effort to bring even more Hispanic Americans to the conservative movement because of the divisive and misguided policies from Biden and the radical left."
Club for Growth will spend about $65,000 on TV and $10,000 on digital.
W.V. GOP congressmen spending heavily to attack each other over the airwaves
While West Virginia’s primary election is still three months away, incumbent Republican Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney aren’t wasting any time in their member-versus-member primary in the state's 2nd Congressional District.
Due to redistricting, West Virginia has downsized from three congressional districts to just two, forcing McKinley and Mooney to compete over the same seat.
Already, Mooney has spent over $340,000 on advertising in the state while McKinley has spent almost $260,000.
Mooney’s ads so far have attacked McKinley’s voting record, dubbing him a “RINO,” or “Republican in Name Only.” One ad features a narrator saying, “Biden's trillion dollar spending bill was dead until McKinley resurrected it, joining 12 RINO Republicans to spend billions on Nancy Pelosi's socialist agenda, contributing to record inflation.” The ad refers to McKinley’s vote in favor of an infrastructure bill that was critical to President Biden’s political agenda last year.
Mooney also often points out in his ads that he’s been endorsed by Trump and one ad’s narrator tells viewers to, “say yes to a true conservative,” who has been endorsed by Trump.
Another Mooney-funded ad highlights McKinley’s vote in favor of investigating the January 6 insurrection. “He betrayed you. David McKinley joined Nancy Pelosi, voting for the January 6th anti-Trump witch hunt to attack our president and our values,” a narrator tells viewers.
In his ads, McKinley refers to his opponent as “Maryland Mooney,” a reference to Mooney’s previous political career in the Maryland state legislature.
McKinley also highlights a House’s Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into Mooney’s improper use of campaign funds.
“Mooney caught concealing almost $50,000 for personal use. Now under federal investigation. $1,900 at Chick-fil-A, $6,100 on luxury travel to a theme park in California, a violation of federal law,” one McKinley-funded ad alleges.
So far, McKinley has over $7,000 placed on future ad space, while Mooney has over $18,000 in future airwaves reserved.
Club for Growth hits airwaves in Nevada Senate race
The conservative Club for Growth Action has launched its first major ad spending in the Nevada Senate race, where it’s backing former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt in his bid to take on Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.
The group has spent $643,000 on TV and radio ads — starting Tuesday and running through April 11 — according to the ad tracking firm AdImpact. Despite the relatively early primary spending, the Club signaled that the move is not reflective of concerns about Laxalt's primary challengers, which include Army veteran Sam Brown, who has posted two subsequent million-dollar fundraising quarters.
“We consider every challenger in our endorsements but we believe Adam Laxalt is a principled conservative who can and will win the primary and general,” Club spokesman Joe Kildea said in a statement to NBC News.
In the most recent fundraising quarter, which ended Dec. 31, Laxalt raised $1.3 million while Brown pulled in nearly $1.1 million. But Brown has also been spending his campaign funds, ending the quarter with $732,000 in his campaign account to Laxalt’s $1.7 million. Cortez Masto bested both Republicans, raising $3.4 million and ending the quarter with $10.5 million on hand.
Republicans have touted Laxalt as a top recruit to take on Cortez Masto, who was first elected in 2016 after also serving as the state’s attorney general. Laxalt recently lost a statewide bid for governor by 4 percentage points in 2018. Laxalt, who has former President Donald Trump’s endorsement in the race, led the Trump campaign’s effort to challenge the 2020 election results in Nevada.
The Nevada Senate race is expected to be one of the most competitive races in the country as Democrats try to hold onto their razor-thin majority. President Joe Biden won the state by just 2 points in 2020.
The Texas primary races to watch
The first primaries of the 2022 midterm cycle kick off on March 1, when Texas holds its intraparty contests, and early voting began on Monday.
While Texas doesn’t feature any of the top blockbuster primaries this year — those start in May — there are some key statewide and congressional primaries. And if no candidate hits a majority in the primary, the top two candidates move to a runoff.
First Read already took a look at the top three races to watch — the gubernatorial primary, the attorney general primary and the Democratic primary in the 28th District. Take a look at other big races below:
3rd Congressional District
GOP Rep. Van Taylor is running for re-election in a Dallas-area district that Trump would have won, 56 percent to 42 percent.
Taylor is the favorite for his re-election — he raised more than 10 times his nearest challenger in 2021, and touts the endorsement of the NRA, Texas GOP Rep. Ronny Jackson and Ted Cruz’s father, Rev. Raphael Cruz.
But he’s being challenged from the right, with his opponents hitting him for backing the bipartisan Jan. 6 commission. Taylor also voted to certify the 2020 election.
His top challengers are former Collin County Judge Keith Self and businesswoman Suzanne Harp, whose son, per the Texas Tribune, is Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s, R-N.C. chief of staff.
8th Congressional District
This seat just north of Houston is open, with GOP Rep. Kevin Brady retiring, and likely to stay Republican. Trump would have won the district over Biden in 2020, 63 percent to 36 percent.
There are 11 GOP candidates in the primary field, but the leaders are veteran Morgan Luttrell (twin of the Lone Survivor, Marcus Luttrell) and conservative activist Christian Collins. Luttrell is endorsed by multiple law enforcement leaders and Republicans such as former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Dan Crenshaw and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Collins has secured the endorsement of Ted Cruz, for whom he used to work, and the House Freedom Caucus. He is hosting an event with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Rep. Madison Cawthorn, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and other right-wing leaders in Woodlands, Texas, later this month.
15th Congressional District
This is an open seat because current Rep. Vicente Gonzalez is running in TX-34 due to redistricting. Trump would have won the district in 2020 with 51 percent of the vote, while Biden took 48 percent of the vote. The South Texas district starts just below Austin and runs all the way to the border.
The frontrunners on the Republican side are Monica de la Cruz and Mauro Garza. De la Cruz ran against Gonzalez in 2020, where Gonzalez won with 51 percent of the vote to de la Cruz’s 48 percent. De la Cruz has been in the news recently due to her divorce proceedings, where her ex-husband alleges “cruel” treatment of him and his daughter from another marriage.
The Democratic frontrunners are Ruben Ramirez, Eliza Alvarado and Michelle Vallejo. Alvarado previously worked for former Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, who held the district before Gonzalez. Ramirez is a veteran and trial attorney. The progressive group LUPE Votes recruited Vallejo to run and endorsed her.
35th Congressional District
The majority-Hispanic 35th District includes San Antonio and stretches into Austin. Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett is vacating the seat to run in the neighboring 37th District, leaving the open primary to become a contest between staunch and pragmatic progressives in a district Biden won by 45 points. With a crowded field of candidates, the Democratic primary could head into a runoff. Former Austin City Councilmember Greg Casar, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and former San Antonio City Councilmember Rebecca Viagran have led the Democratic field and fundraising.
National and Texas Democrats are divided in the primary. Casar has endorsements from high-profile progressives like Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Justice Democrats. Rodriguez, who was one of the lawmakers who fled to D.C. to stall GOP voting bills, has endorsements from Texas Reps. Al Green and Marc Veasey, as well as support from the political arm of the moderate NewDem Coalition.
DeSantis leads potential challengers in Florida as Dem field takes shape, new poll suggests
Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis is well ahead of his possible Democratic challengers as he faces re-election in November, a new poll suggests.
In a head-to-head matchup, DeSantis leads former Gov. Charlie Crist 51 percent to 43 percent, according to a general election survey of registered voters from Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy that was released Tuesday. DeSantis enjoys an 11-point advantage over Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and a 16-point advantage over state Sen. Annette Taddeo, the survey suggests.
The poll’s error margin is +/- 4 points.
The poll also found that 53 percent of voters approve of DeSantis' job performance and that 43 percent disapprove — a sign that the scrutiny and criticism DeSantis has received for his management of the coronavirus pandemic isn’t hurting him with the electorate.
“The Republicans like it, the Democrats hate it, and the independents like it more than hate it,” Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker said.
Coker said Florida Democrats are being hurt by President Joe Biden’s plummeting approval ratings as independents across the state and the country are leaning more toward the GOP.
"Biden is a drag, and the national Democratic Party brand is a drag,” Coker added.
DeSantis also has a massive cash advantage over his rivals. According to the most recent campaign finance filings with the state, DeSantis has more than $81.5 million in the bank between his political committee and his re-election campaign account. Crist has just $4.3 million, Fried $3.6 million and Taddeo less than $760,000.
The Mason-Dixon poll suggests that Crist is favored at the moment to win the Democratic primary against Fried and Taddeo, buoyed by relatively strong support from Black voters. But Coker said Fried, who had far better name recognition among voters who were surveyed than Taddeo, could give Crist a spirited challenge if Black voters desert him.
Crist left the GOP to become an independent when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010 and then became a Democrat ahead of a 2014 effort to unseat then-Gov. Rick Scott, who won by about a point.
DeSantis expands massive fundraising advantage over Democratic challengers
Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., continues to expand his huge money lead over the Democrats trying to dethrone him in the fall, new reports filed Thursday show.
The Republican, who is not facing a competitive primary challenger, raised $10 million through his campaign and affiliated political committee in January, spending about $900,000.
Those numbers are on a different level than what the Democrats competing for the right to run against him are raising — the three top Democratic candidates combined to raise a little over $1.2 million, a fraction of the size of DeSantis' January haul.
Former Governor and current Rep. Charlie Crist raised about $713,000 between his campaign and affiliated committee last month, state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried raised $313,000 and state Rep. Annette Taddeo raised $195,000.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ramps up ad spending ahead of primary
Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is making use of his massive war chest ahead of the March 1 primary, dropping an additional $2 million on TV and radio ads Thursday.
That brought Abbot’s total ad spending for the race so far to $9 million, according to the ad tracking firm AdImpact. Abbott’s two primary opponents, former state Sen. Don Huffines and former Texas GOP chairman and congressman Allen West booked another $130,000 and $45,000 respectively on Thursday.
If no candidate wins a majority of the primary vote, the top two vote-getters advance to a May runoff. Early voting in the Texas primary begins Monday.
Abbott, who has former President Donald Trump’s endorsement in the race, has a sizable financial advantage. As of Jan. 20, Abbott’s campaign had $62.6 million on hand, while Huffines had $2.3 million and West had $83,000.
In his latest TV ad, Abbott focused on the economic improvements during his tenure. But he also signaled that he’s focused on the general election, tying President Joe Biden to former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a top contender for the Democratic nomination. A narrator in the ad says “Biden and Beto” want “open borders, crushing taxes and the Green New Deal.”
Abbott was first elected governor of Texas in 2014 after serving as the state’s attorney general, easily winning the gubernatorial primary that year and again in 2018. Abbott won a second term in 2018 by 13 percentage points.